"No. Absolutely not." Hermione glared at Harry as he walked into the room, papers in one hand, Draco Malfoy trailing behind him.
"No one else will take him, 'Mione."
And she knew she was trapped.
. . . . . . . . . .
The Ministry, in a fit of despicable bureaucratic insanity, had decided that all minor children and most wives of Death Eaters needed to be placed in 'protective custody' with 'trustworthy citizens' which was, as Hermione had said, as polite a term for slavery as she'd ever heard.
Dolores Umbridge, one of the authors of the legislation, had smiled her oily toad smile at Hermione and said, "I don't see why this bothers you so, dear. It's not like anyone wants you to register or be placed with a family."
Things don't stop being wrong because they aren't happening to me, Hermione had thought, staring at the woman.
. . . . . . . . . .
Harry and Neville had only had to exchange one glance and they'd both started emptying their vaults, paying the 'fees' to get people out of the Ministry Detention Center and into the homes of trustworthy DA members and from there to safety in Europe. France took some, Germany a few more, and Bulgaria, thanks to the influence of Victor Krum, took more still.
"No one will offer refugee status to him," Harry said now as Draco stared at her, arms crossed and expression sullen. He was dirty, she noticed, and too thin. His hair was greasy and lank, his clothing probably the same he'd been wearing the day they'd rounded him up. There was a yellowing bruise on his cheek and, without thinking she went to brush his hair out of his face and look at it more closely; she froze when the man flinched. "They won't take actual Death Eaters, no one will," Harry was still talking. "And everyone here's afraid of him, or hates him."
"And you thought of me because…" Hermione trailed off, still looking at the pale, beaten man in front of her.
"Because if you don't take him they'll probably just send him to Azkaban and he'll die." Harry was blunt.
"I don't own people, Harry," she said desperately. "It's wrong. Beyond wrong."
"I know," he said as he sat down at the table and began to spread the paperwork out, the paperwork that would assign Draco Malfoy to her 'protective custody', the paperwork that would make him as close to her belonging as made no difference. "But if you don't do it - " Harry stopped and looked up at her.
"This isn't even going to be some legal fiction for the week it'll take to get him out of the country," she said, grabbing the quill. "And you know it."
The man shrugged and she glanced back at Malfoy, still standing passively right inside the door. "This is fucking wrong," she said again, helplessly, as she started to sign.
"I know," Harry said.
. . . . . . . . . .
Draco Malfoy hadn't even been surprised to be rounded up and detained. He'd been only moderately surprised to discover the Ministry planned to sell off children. He'd been surprised as hell when Harry Potter started showing up, buying as many as he could.
He was bitter, beaten down, and tired but he wasn't a stupid man, and he knew that there was no way the sainted chosen one wanted dozens and dozens of slaves so it didn't take him long to put together there was some kind of underground railroad going on. He was relieved to see each person safely pulled out until he was it, the last man standing. No one, after all, wanted responsibility for an actual Death Eater. Bitter, indeed.
Watching Hermione Granger sign papers that said he was hers, that she owned him like a chair or a dog or a book, he felt himself die a little. He'd hoped, somehow, that he'd get smuggled out too. No one will take you, Harry had said on their way here. No one will offer you refugee status. I've tried every place I could. I'm so sorry, he'd said.
Thank you for getting them all out, Draco had said, without looking at the man. You didn't have to do that, he'd said. You didn't even like those people; they didn't even like you.
Yes, Harry had said, I had to. About some things one doesn't have a choice.
She won't take me, Draco had said.
Yes, he'd said. She will. No choice.
And she was. The papers were signed and she looked like she wanted to vomit but Hermione Granger had just sullied her perfect little soul and become a slave owner in order to keep him alive. He supposed he should feel gratitude; he didn't.
"You'll have to side-along Apparate the first time," she said without looking at him. "My cottage is unplottable, fidelius charm, the whole works."
"I'd have to side-along Apparate if it were the neighborhood pub," Draco spoke for the first time. "No wand."
"You're a wizard," Hermione still wasn't looking at him. "Of course you have a wand."
"I'm the offspring of a dangerous criminal, as well as being one myself, and I'm in need of protective custody," he said. "And it's hard to keep people enslaved if they have a magical wand they can use to escape."
She paled at that. "They confiscated all the wands?" She turned to Harry again. "You didn't tell me they were doing that!"
"You've had enough on your plate. I wanted to keep you focused." Harry was gathering up the paperwork. "I'll get this all filed and registered."
"Let's go." Draco watched her turn to him and she grabbed him and he felt the familiar, miserable sensation of Apparation before they were outside the lovely, rural cottage that would serve as his new prison. She led him in, past a white fence with a gate that hung open, past overgrown flowerbeds and through a rounded door with a window. The cottage was nice; he had to admit that. Small, but nice. There was a living area with a kitchen off to one side and three doors that opened off the main room. She pushed him towards one of them. "Guest room," she said, her tone clipped. "Your room now." She pointed at a second. "Bath. There's only one; we'll have to share."
He looked at her. She was obviously uncomfortable, miserable, even. Good. He'd learned early that the only power he had left was making people feel guilt about what they were doing to him.
She kept babbling on, "I assume those are the only clothes you have so if you make a list of your sizes and some basic preferences I'll get more ordered. Let me know what food you like too so I can stock the kitchen. I'll make some sandwiches and – "
He stopped her. "Shouldn't I do that?" He paused, watching a confused look flit over her face before he added with as much malice as he could, "Mistress."
"Don't call me that," she snapped.
"It's what you are," he drawled, and then said it again. "Mistress."
She nearly tripped as she ran from the main area into what he assumed was her bedroom and slammed the door behind her and he made sure to laugh, a low, angry sound and one he wanted her to hear. Then he went into his room and, sitting on the bed, shook with fear and relief and resentment and exhaustion and so many other things he couldn't even sort them out before collapsing into sleep.
. . . . . . . . . .
It was dark when he woke. A wary look outside his door confirmed the witch – his custodian – wasn't out so he made his way to the kitchen where he found a plate set out on the counter with a sandwich and some crisps along with a bottle of butterbeer. He ate, swallowing a little gratitude and a lot of resentment with the food she'd made him.
There was a sheet of paper and a quill. She'd written 'sizes/colors' on the paper and he dutifully wrote down what he needed. There was pride and then there was being stupid.
At the bottom of the list he wrote 'freedom' and then 'a wand'.
Choke on that, he thought. 'Mistress.'
. . . . . . . . . .
She had the clothes ordered and delivered within a day, and he slipped on a clean shirt and clean trousers with a feeling of relief. Clean was something he'd missed terribly. He'd washed at length, and then done it again. He didn't think any of the cuts from the assorted discipline he'd endured at the detention center would scar but it was good to run water over them, to clean them out.
He and Granger managed to avoid one another. He'd snag books from her shelves and stay in his room; she left prepared food out on the counter and then cleaned up after him once he'd retreated back, away from her. He hated this, hated her. She hated this, hated him.
. . . . . . . . . .
"Come on," she said, tapping on his door. When he didn't answer she hit the door harder and then opened it. He was standing at the window, staring out. "We're going shopping."
He turned at her intrusion, narrowed his eyes and said, "Might I ask for what, Mistress?"
"I've asked you not to call me that," she muttered. "And I'm getting you a wand."
He inhaled sharply and at that she said, an almost innocent smirk on her face, "I thought you said you wanted one. It was on the list you wrote."
"They won't let you buy me a wand," he said, following her to the living area.
"Oh, really?" Granger was gathering things now and shoving them into her hideous bag. "Last time I checked I am the proud signer of a piece of paper that says I have you in custody and have the right to extract reasonable labor from you in exchange for room and board."
"Yes," he drew the word out. He knew what the law entitled her to do, had had nightmares about what would happen to him, to his friends, to the bloody children who cried at night in the miserable detention center, until it had become clear Potter and his merry band of do-gooders were playing savior again.
"Well, you're a wizard," Hermione Granger looked both logical and smug as she added, "and therefore any reasonable labor I might want to extract from you is going to involve magic which means you'll need a wand."
He felt a smile come, wholly unbidden, and with it just the tiniest sprig of hope, both of which he shoved back down into the darkest recesses of his mind. "It won't work," he said.
"Wanna bet?" she asked.
. . . . . . . . . .
Draco Malfoy decided he was never going to bet against Hermione Granger. She'd walked into the shop and, as he'd predicted, the clerks gushed and flattered and were incredibly eager to help the war heroine until she announced she wanted a wand for him.
"We can't…" the clerk stumbled over the words. "He's a…the law says…"
"The law," Hermione snapped, "Says that wands are to be confiscated during detention but he's not in detention now. I didn't buy a Muggle gardener, I bought a wizard and I need him to have magic." She'd walked across the shop towards the clerk and he'd backed further and further away from her until he was pressed up against the shelves. She was magnificent; Draco had to admit it to himself. Her bushy, ridiculous hair almost sparked with the magical energy she was radiating and she was terrorizing the hapless clerk so efficiently she'd put his mother to shame.
He hoped his mother had gotten out. They hadn't been in the same detention center; there'd been a policy about separating families whenever possible. He tried not to think about it.
"Surely," Hermione was continuing, "you aren't suggesting I can't control him?"
"No, no…" the man stammered and, with that, boxes were brought out and wands were tested and they found one that suited him. The clerk wrapped the package up and handed it, hands shaking, to Granger, who thanked the man with chilly precision as she paid the bill.
Back at the cottage she tossed the box at him and Draco caught it. "Try not to curse me in my sleep," she muttered before retreating back to her bedroom.
. . . . . . . . . .
He thought about just leaving but he had nowhere to go.
. . . . . . . . . .
"Bloody buggering fuck."
Draco had stopped hiding in his room. Whatever this was, it wasn't ending anytime soon and at least the cottage and garden made for a larger prison. He wasn't sure what Granger did all day but she was gone most of the time and he had the run of the place.
Like a pet, he thought, a sour, resentful thought.
Now she'd come through the door, swearing and swinging that bag of hers and flinging papers onto the table.
"What?" he asked.
"We lost, that's what." She yanked the kitchen cupboard doors open and pulled down a bottle of fire whiskey, not mentioning how much lower the level was than when he'd first moved in. "Lost. I can't fucking believe it." She poured first herself a glass first. "Do you want one?"
"Lost what?" He crossed the room and picked up the glass she held out to him.
"The appeal. We've been working ever since that legislation was passed to get it repealed. 'I don't understand why you object to this, Miss Granger. Don't you have someone in protective custody yourself.'" She was mimicking someone and he felt his stomach start to clench. "Lost the moral high ground, I did, when I took you in." She swallowed a huge gulp of the whiskey and started to cough. "Not that it would have mattered. We were never going to win."
"You're supposed to sip it," he said, looking at her. "What have you been doing, Granger?"
"Trying to get you your freedom, Malfoy. It was on your list, wasn't it?" She laughed, the bitterest sound he'd ever heard from her. "Harry's gotten almost everyone else out so the only person the legal work would even really effect is you. And we lost. Lost." She swallowed again, more carefully this time. "Just… fuck it."
"You've been trying to get the Protective Custody Act repealed?" he asked, very slowly, feeling his world spin as he watched the witch drink.
"What the hell did you think I was doing all day?" She picked up her glass and the bottle and headed towards her room. "Excuse me."
He looked at her as she crossed to her door, listened to the sound of it slam shut, and began sorting through the paperwork she'd flung down. He read, sipping his own drink, and looking up at her door from time to time. He learned she'd been fighting the Act since it had been passed, had spent all her time since the war in a legal battle. He learned a lot of things. It took a while to go through all the papers and she still hadn't come out by the time he was done. He put the last sheet down and sat, for a long while, looking out the window at her neglected garden.
Then he made dinner.
When it was done he just opened the door to her room without knocking and said, "Come eat."
"Fuck you, Malfoy," she muttered.
"You'd have to ask a lot more nicely than that," he drawled and at that she looked up. "I made food. Come eat it."
"You don't cook," she said, but she stood up and he plucked the glass from her hand as she passed him.
It was true; he didn't cook. He'd grown up with elves and servants and caterers and prepared food had always just appeared. The meat he'd made was dry and the vegetables boiled to mush but she ate what he put in front of her without complaining. She didn't tease, didn't insult, didn't do any of the things he would have done if their places had been reversed and he watched her in silence as she cut one tough piece of pork after another off her chop and chewed them. When they were both done she began to gather the plates and carry them to the sink.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"Cleaning up," she said, no inflection in her tone. "Thank you for making dinner."
"Shouldn't that be my job as your slave?"
"You aren't a slave," she turned on the water and began washing the dishes by hand.
"Then what am I?" He was very quiet, watching her.
"My temporarily politically inconvenienced housemate."
"I'm going to be a slave forever, aren't I?" Her hands stilled over the dishes, then began to work again. "I read all the papers. You lost, Granger. Lost. No other country will take me; my own is keeping me in 'protective custody.' You objected and appealed and brought in witnesses and nothing mattered. You've reached the end of the political process. This is it, isn't it?"
"I'll think of something," she said, her back to him. "You won't be stuck with me, here, for the rest of your life."
"I'm sorry," he said, still speaking so softly she had to stop banging the dishes to hear him. "I've wronged you, as they say."
"Yeah, well, you're a prat. In other news, water is wet." She was just standing there, now, her hands in the suds, not moving. Waiting, he supposed, to hear what he'd say next.
"Why did you take me in?"
"Because even if you're a prejudiced arse with piss poor decision making skills you're still a human being." Her voice was tight and controlled. "Because what's happened to you is wrong."
"Thank you," he said. "You… I don't think you know what you rescued me from."
"I assume it was bad. Harry said the conditions were… poor."
Draco Malfoy snorted at that. "Who knew Potter had such a talent for understatement."
"You showed up in clothes you'd been wearing for months, you were bruised and you flinched when I went near you. I didn't need Harry to tell me you'd been mistreated."
Draco thought of the detention center, of the way he'd inevitably drawn the guards' attention, the way he'd started doing it on purpose to keep them away from people who were actually, rather than merely technically, children. "That's one way of putting it, yes."
"You can stay here as long as you need to," she said, finally facing him.
"I'll try to help out more," he said, watching her dry her hands. So funny, the way she mixed Muggle and magical ways of doing things.
"That would be great." Her expression was carefully neutral. He thought for a bit about how she'd never asked him to do anything other than list the things he needed, about how she'd spent all her time trying to free him. He remembered writing 'freedom' on the list he'd made for her, wanting to rub her nose in her complicity with his servitude even though he'd known it had been unwilling. He remembered writing 'a wand', something he'd never believed she could – or would – get for him, something that he now had shoved into his pocket, something he spent a lot of time holding onto like a lifeline.
He shrugged. "Well, your garden needs work."
At that she smiled, a real smile, and he felt a small grin of his own reflect back at her.
. . . . . . . . .
She opened up the mail and her eyes traced a short note before she handed him a smaller envelope that had been sealed up within it.
"I assume it's a note from your mother. Harry finally got her out and…"
She stopped talking because he'd made a choked sound and was tearing the letter open. He sensed her studying him as he began to shake, as he laid the paper very carefully on the table in front of him before he bent over and shuddered, struggling to control himself.
"Is she okay," she asked.
"She's fine," he looked up and tears were streaming down his face. "Your Harry got her out a while ago, she's in hiding, she's fine." He bent his head down again. "She's fine."
. . . . . . . . . .
She made a chocolate cake that night, and he watched her from the couch, pretending not to. He knew she watched him back, also pretending not to. They did a lot of pretending not to notice one another now that she was home all day, stalking about and nearly vibrating with suppressed rage at the Ministry.
"What's this for?" he asked, digging a fork into it.
"To celebrate that your mother's okay," she said.
"It's good," he said. "Thank you."
. . . . . . . . . .
Herbology hadn't been his favorite subject but his mother had loved her gardens and he'd learned enough at her side to tackle Granger's overgrown and weedy flowerbeds which was exactly what he was doing when she came home and hugged him,
He stood there, wand in hand, her arms around him, feeling her breasts press up against him, smelling her hair, and said, without moving, "If I'd known weeding would inspire such affection I would have done it sooner."
"Prat," she said, letting him go, but there was respect in her tone, even fondness maybe.
"What was that about," he asked watching her step back as things shifted somehow.
She hoisted her bag back to her shoulder and said with a casual shrug that was obviously faked, "I was doing some investigation into the conditions of the detention centers."
"It's a dead end." Frustration flitted across her face. "Since they're all closed now no one's interested in opening a hearing into the way children were treated."
He wasn't surprised, would have told her not to waste her time, had already started turning back to the garden when she added, "But I talked to a guard who told me some interesting things about the way a certain blond took care of the…" she stopped and he could feel himself tense. "You're a much better man than you'd have people believe," she finally said, very quietly, before going into the house.
. . . . . . . . . .
"Teach me to cook," he said, and she almost laughed at him before she controlled her expression. "It can't be harder than potions," he muttered, "and I don't have much to do."
She bit the inside of her cheek as she looked at him and he squirmed and had begun to wish he hadn't asked when she said, "I'll get some cookbooks and let you teach yourself. I'm sure with some basic manuals you'll be fine on your own. What kind of food do you like best?"
"French," he said and when she actually did laugh at that he grabbed some paper off the table, crumbled it up and threw it at her.
"Hey," she said, hands up in the air, "Don't let me get in the way of your ambitions. That just may be… quite a leap from where you are now."
She handed him a book the next day and he looked at it. "This is a – "
" - Muggle book. Yes." She eyed him. "Do you have a problem with things from a Muggle background?"
He was flipping through the book, skimming the instructions and watching her through a fringe of hair. Double meanings much, he thought, suppressing an urge to roll his eyes at her. All he said was, "Not anymore."
Double meanings. Half meanings.
. . . . . . . . .
"That was really good," Granger looked like she wanted to actually lick the plate and Draco felt fully justified in his smug response.
"My natural superiority triumphs yet again."
"Prat," she snorted.
"At your service," he bowed as he cleared the table and brought out the chocolate concoction he'd made. I'll see you one ordinary chocolate cake, he thought, and raise you chocolate almond cake.
Hermione Granger leaned back, a glass of port in her hand, and said, "Draco Malfoy, you're a wonder."
"And you," he snorted, "are more than a little drunk." When she shook her head, than had to steady herself against the table he laughed. "Tomorrow's going to be a miserable day for you, Granger."
"Slave's revenge," she said, raising her glass towards him in a toast.
Definitely drunk, he thought, to be that cruel.
. . . . . . . . . .
"The best plan we have is to get you a false Muggle identity," she was saying. "You can glamour the Mark, dye your hair, and leave the country via Muggle means. You'll only be able to use magic in private, of course, will have to live as an ordinary man but at least you'll be free."
"You mean I'll be a fugitive forever, hiding who I really am?" He asked her and she blanched.
"It's all I can figure out," she whispered. "I'm so sorry."
"Let me think about it," he said.
. . . . . . . . . .
He pushed the door of her room open, didn't even knock. She was awake instantly, of course, her hand on her wand. You don't survive a war without developing some remarkable reflexes. He held his hands up. "It's just me."
"What do you want?"
He looked at her in the dim light. Her hair was a disaster, as usual. She was wearing an old t-shirt advertising some Muggle band he'd never heard of. She had her wand wavering in one hand, the other hand holding sheets up across herself as if to ward him off.
"I want you to kiss me," he said baldly and she pressed herself back up against her headboard.
"I can't," she stammered. "The Act… I practically own you… it would be… you can't consent, the power differential is too great."
"Put down your wand," he said slowly, with great deliberation, "and kiss me. I have lived in this house with you for far too long and if I don't kiss you I might go absolutely barking mad. I assure you, I consent. I wholly, utterly consent."
"Draco…" she was watching him, her eyes wide, but she was putting the wand down and he bore down on her, sitting on her bed and slipping his hands into that great, bushy mess she called hair.
"Before you ship me off to live hiding everything about who and what I am, let me find this out, please, because I think if I touch you I'll burn, because I want very much to find out if you will too, because before I have to make a choice about whether to be a fugitive or a slave I want to know this.
"It's wrong," she whispered but, he noted, she was raising her hand to stroke his hair, her touch tentative and wary and scared and he had her and he knew it.
"Don't talk to me about wrong," he murmured, leaning forward so his mouth hovered just above her skin. "I've lived so many varietals of wrong I'm a bloody connoisseur. This is curiosity and lust and us figuring out whether we're more than a do-gooder and her unfortunate project. What this is not is wrong."
"I own you," she said again, in absolute desperation.
"Nonsense," he said, waiting for her to close that final distance between them. "I am merely your temporarily politically inconvenienced house guest."
"You've never been 'merely' anything in your whole life," she muttered and, at that, he laughed.
"Are you going to kiss me or not?"
And she did, then, and he was right, it was fire. He was falling in fire, would be so falling forever, and there was no way he was letting this woman send him off to hide somewhere away from her. He could think of a lot of very interesting things that might qualify as reasonable labor she could extract from him in return for his room and board. He could think of a lot of things he'd like to extract from her. And he was tugging her shirt off over her head and staring at the utter, disheveled perfection of her before he groaned and pulled her down, pulled them both down, so they were lying on her bed and he was running his hands over her bare skin and feeling her shiver next to him, feeling her mouth against his, feeling her hesitation even as it faded away. She was so inexperienced, he thought somewhere in the back of his mind. All that time spent saving them all, all that time spent trying to save him, and she'd never allowed herself this, just this.
He couldn't give her much, couldn't even pay her back for the wand she'd bought him. But this, he could give her this.
"Well," he whispered at last, when they broke apart to catch their breath, panting. "I think my decision about whether to be a fugitive or a slave rests with you because as I'd much rather stay and explore this in greater detail, it's your choice. Do I get to stay, Mistress mine? No sending me off to hide as a Muggle in Bulgaria?"
"I've asked you not to call me that," she said, pulling his head back to hers, the hands she had in his hair so much less tentative now. "I hate it so much," she muttered before she was kissing him again and he grinned against her.
"I know," he said, around the kisses he was layering onto her mouth, "Why do you think I do it?"